WEST CHESTER, Ohio (WCMH) — Plants bloom in stages throughout the state of Ohio. Right now there is a warning coming from Hamilton and Butler Counties in the Southwestern part of the state about dangerous blooming weeds.
Wild parsnip and poison hemlock are beginning to show their colors in that region, and that means Franklin and surrounding counties in Central Ohio should see these invasive weeds blooming in the next couple of weeks.
A warning was published on June 2, by entomologist Joe Boggs with the OSU extension office in Hamilton County. He keeps an eye out for them and tries to have them eradicated.
“If I came in and mowed this off right now, before it produces seed, then I would help reduce the infestation,” Boggs said while standing near wild parsnip. “The down side is, if I start mowing this, the sap is going to go everywhere.”
The danger with wild parsnip is that it can cause phytophotodermatitis (basically, phyto means plant, photo means light, derma means skin, and itis, of course, means inflammation.)
“Wild parsnip actually contains a chemical called psoralen and it is in the family of chemicals called furocoumarins,” said Dr. Susan Massick who is a dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “When exposed to the skin and sun exposure creates a sunburn-like reaction.”
The symptoms can range from irritation to the skin, to welts, to blisters that are similar to radiation burns. It has been said that the pain can be so severe, a patient would wish they were dead.
“So it’s best to avoid it as much as possible,” said Dr. Massick.
The chemical is in the leaves, flowers, stems, and in the roots. The best prevention if in a park is to stay on a path. If you must go into a field that has this, wear long sleeves, pants, and gloves. Once you have finished what you are doing, change your clothes and take a shower to wash off the chemical immediately.
The symptoms on the skin can be redness, irritation, inflammation, itching, and within 24-48 hours, blistering can form. The rash typically improves in about a week.
“That discoloration ends up being present for weeks to even months,” said Massick. “Patients are often bothered by it because ‘why hasn’t this rash gone, is there still something going on?’ Actually is just discoloration from the increased melanin that happens with the chemical in the skin.”
The chemical is not only in wild parsnip. It is also in lemons, limes, dill, carrots, celery, and figs. There is a condition also known as “Bar Hands.” Typically a bartender has red hands from using some of these fruits and vegetables while mixing cocktails. It is also called “Bar Rot.”
“Sometimes this can happen when you’re just having a drink by the pool,” said Massick. “It is a very common condition, you just don’t know about it until it happens to you.”
The bottom line for this, if you do not know what you are walking into, do not venture into vegetation, because poison hemlock can also be nearby.
“It’s the same idea behind anything. I love mushrooms, but I wouldn’t harvest the wild ones, because I don’t know enough about it,” said Boggs. “The same idea here. A nice bouquet of flowers, the poison hemlock would be okay as long as you didn’t ‘t get it in your mouth. This would be disastrous,” said Boggs, pointing to the wild parsnip.
The danger is death–if ingested. The chances of you ingesting the juices from this plant are slim to none. Here is the kicker, though: get this on your hands and touch your eyes, mouth, or nose and you are in danger.
“It isn’t to panic relative to seeing these plants. It’s simply, now you know about these plants and you know what they present relative to risks,” said Boggs. “Poison hemlock is not going to jump over on you and you don’t get the sap in your mouth. As long you know you don’t want to handle this at all,” Boggs said while touching wild parsnip while wearing rubber gloves.
Boggs stressed that if either of these plants are in your landscaping, you need to get rid of it.
“This spring before this plant started producing this flower stock they applied a selective herbicide,” said Boggs. “This is gone, and it was pretty darn dramatic.”
The first thing to do is identify it, and then come up with a plan. If mowing is the only option, know the risk of the sap and mow before there are flowers.